His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great

By Peter Cummins
Photos: Courtesy of the Bureau of the Royal Household

 

Prologue

Born on Monday, the fifth of December, 1927 at the Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts, HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great reached his seventy-fifth birthday yesterday. As the Thai people celebrated this year’s anniversary of the birth of the world’s longest-reigning Monarch, the Chiangmai Mail presents this supplement, prepared by special correspondent Peter Cummins, as a “Happy Birthday” tribute to our beloved King.

His Majesty the King accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, presided over the ceremony to lay the Foundation Stone of the Khlong Tha Dan Dam Project under the Royal Initiation of His Majesty the King at Ban Tha Dan, Muang Nakhon Nayok District, Nakhon Nayok Province on June 2, 2001.

His Majesty the King observing a combine harvester harvesting rice from the demonstration rice field of the Royal Chitralada Project, in the compound of Chitralada Villa on August 10, 2001.

In his Coronation Oath, promulgated on the fifth of May 1950, the newly-crowned Rama the Ninth vowed that, “We will reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people” and the almost 53 years which have passed since that auspicious day, the concept of “righteousness” has dominated his reign. In fact, the King has, throughout his more than five decades of rule, constantly revered the age-old Buddhist concept of ‘Kingship’ as defined in the “Sutta Pitaka” of the “Tripitaka” in which a King is defined as “Mahasammata” - a King of Righteousness. The Buddhist scriptures also define the genesis of the universe and the progression of evils which befall mankind: greed, stealing and lying and the inevitable repercussions of censure and punishment.

Our King has steadfastly reigned by these principles, embodying good kingship in his own life and example and often speaking out against the affliction of the evils so clearly spelled out in the Buddhist philosophy - evils and afflictions which seem to have become progressively worse in the past tumultuous year.

There will inevitably be some familiar material in parts in this story, for the King’s development projects have been ongoing for more than 50 years and there is, of course, a historical perspective which has been encapsulated.

Many events are planned throughout the Kingdom to celebrate His Majesty’s birthday and it is known that two universities in Australia (Woolongong and Tasmania) will be granting the King Honorary Doctorate degrees for his tremendous contributions to world understanding and peace.

One of the King’s many official duties during the year has been to open the new Rama VIII Bridge on the 20th of September. The 475-metre long stay cable bridge was commissioned by His Majesty in July 1996 and it was constructed to commemorate King Ananda Mahidol, Rama the Eighth. King Bhumibol introduced a number of aesthetic designs based upon the former King’s royal seal. As in all of the King’s ideas, the new bridge was designed and built to have the least possible effect on the environment on the Chao Phraya River, the riverbanks and the surrounding river approaches.

The Rama VIII Bridge links the west of Bangkok to the east, starting from the outer Bangkok Ring Road, to connect to the Eastern Ring Road.

After the official opening, the City of Bangkok presented His Majesty with a 24K gold model of the bridge, and a gold plate with the bridge engraved upon it to HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn who accompanied the King at the opening.

Development Centres

Over the years, the King has established five Royal Development Study Centres - or, as they are better known - “Living Museums” - situated in the roughest terrain in their respective regions. These centres are the locale for experiments in re-forestation, irrigation, land development and farm technology which are conducted to find practical applications within the constraints of local conditions, geography and topography. His Majesty’s aim is to restore the natural balance, to enable people to become self-supporting.

The first centre organized was that of Khao Hin Son, in the rocky area of Chachoengsao’s Phanom Sarakam District. Here, the centre studies how to turn the barren soil, caused by de-forestation, back into fertile land again.

Other centres are located at strategic places around the Kingdom. The Pikul Thong Centre at Narathiwat studies the swampy, acidic land of the southern-most region.

The Phu Phan Centre in Sakhon Nakhon studies soil salinization and irrigation in the country’s biggest region, the Northeast which suffers from endemic drought.

The Krung Kraben Bay Centre in Chantaburi examines the rehabilitation of mangrove forests and coastal areas following massive destruction.

The Huay Sai Centre in Petchaburi studies the rehabilitation of degraded forests and shows villagers, in their turn, how to protect the forests.

When he is in doubt, the King will fly over a particular area, armed with aerial photographs and maps of the terrain, noting features as they pass underneath. But, being a good photographer himself, he also takes his own pictures and later juxtaposes them over the charts to obtain a detailed image of the area of his concern which helps in his planning of specific development projects.

Throughout the more than five decades that the King has ruled Thailand, not only Thais, but people around the world have become accustomed to seeing His Majesty travelling to remote areas of the country. He works with and - brings rational development to - even the poorest and most disadvantage groups. He is often filmed leading officials, farmers and many diverse groups up rough mountain trails, over bridges, punting along in small sampans, to initiate sustainable projects and ideas, aimed at helping the many who have been forgotten or left behind in the development process.

His Majesty’s insightful approach to local prevailing conditions has enabled him to improvise new theories for agricultural development, to provide guidelines for educating farmers on self-sufficiency, and to solve problems of goitre by feeding iodine into salt roads at strategic points.

In all these works, His Majesty has promoted a simple approach using environmentally-friendly techniques and utilizing moderate amounts of locally available resources. For example, before environmentalism became a major force in the development equation, His Majesty was using vetiver grass to prevent erosion, controlling ground water level to reduce soil acidity, and seeding clouds with simple materials such as dry ice, to produce rain.

A ‘Simple’ Approach

The King’s philosophy to development problems has been to “keep it simple”, relying on an intimate knowledge of Nature and her immutable laws, such as using fresh water to flush out polluted water or dilute it through utilization of normal tidal fluctuations. The ubiquitous water hyacinth, too, can be ‘harnessed’ to absorb pollutants.

The results of any development, the King asserts, must reach the people directly as a means of overcoming immediate problems, translating into “enough to live, enough to eat”, while looking at a longer-term result of “living well and eating well.”

His Majesty compares this to using “adharma” (evil) to fight evil, observing that both pollution and the water weed are a menace, but they can be used to counteract each other, thus lessening the damage to the environment.

The King himself practices this “simple approach” and brings a down- to-earth approach to which the people can readily relate. He studies and deliberates exhaustively on the particular project and then reveals his thinking in short, easy-to-grasp titles. The very simplicity belies the profundity of the philosophy, for each title reflects a much deeper insight into a given problem and often, at the same time, hints at the mode of operation to be employed.

A major working principle has been a true knowledge of and reliance upon the immutable laws of Nature in solving problems and resolving abnormal conditions, such as using fresh water to flush out polluted water, as in his analogy “good water chases bad” referring to the hyacinth/water pollution problem in the Chao Phraya, for example.

It was in 1969 that the King, vitally concerned about the Hill Tribes’ cultivation of and addiction to opium, established the Royal Project, the first manifestation being a Hmong village on Doi Pui in Chiang Mai Province. Development has now spread to Chiang Rai, Lamphun and Mae Hong Son.

Over the years, the Projects have been instrumental in the conversion of the poppy fields being turned into groves of temperate fruits and vegetables. It is under the dynamic direction of the King’s close colleague, friend and confidant, Prince Bhisadej Rajanee who manages the projects from his base at the Chiang Mai University, that there are now five research stations and 35 Royal Project Development Centres which incorporate some 300 villages, comprising 14,000 households and approximately 90,000 farmers.

The Royal Development Projects Board, under the Office of the Prime Minister, also serves as the secretariat for the Chai Pattana Foundation which is directly responsible for the work related to the Royal Development Projects.

Thus, more than three decades later, the results can be seen in the new life which has come to many of the mountain villages. Greenery has returned to areas once denuded of forest cover through the highly-destructive slash-and-burn agriculture, leaving only barren hills in its wake, and the opium cultivation, a cause of extreme national concern, is relegated to the dust-bin of history.

“The key to the success of the Project lies in His Majesty’s guidelines,” explains Prince Bhisadej. “They focus on obtaining knowledge, through research, avoiding bureaucratic entanglements and swift action to respond to the villagers’ needs, while promoting self-reliance,” he adds.

“The effectiveness of this approach has been applauded internationally. For example, in 1998 the Royal Project won both the “Magsaysay Award for International Understanding” and the “Thai Expo Award for the Highest Quality Standard of Thai Goods for Export.”

The King’s own views are that development must respect different regions’ geography and peoples’ way of life. “We cannot impose our ideas on the people - only suggest. We must meet them, ascertain their needs and then propose what can be done to meet their expectations,” the King pointed out recently.

The King’s ideas are in direct contrast to the bureaucracy’s wish to impose standards from the top down, with the inflexibility inherent therein. “Don’t be glued to the textbook,” he admonishes developers “who”, he said, “must compromise and come to terms with the natural and social environment of the community”.

The King sees no need to spare any sensitivities - if there are any - because he feels that the government approach is costly and authoritarian which is why it has “failed miserably to address the country’s problems.”

The Sporting Life

Of course, His Majesty is highly pleased with the performance of Thai tennis star, Paradorn Srichapan who has raised the Thai flag the highest it has ever been on the international tennis circuit, returning home just last month to a tumultuous welcome and given a hero’s reception.

The King receives a yachting trophy from HM the Queen, Klai Kangwol Palace ca. 1987.

His Majesty honoured Paradorn with a Royal audience at Chitrlada Palace on Thursday, November 14, awarding him the “Phra Mahajanaka Medal”, a singular honour only given to those who achieve highest levels through long-term patience and determination. Paradorn, in turn, presented His Majesty with the trophy he won in the TD Waterhouse Cup, the first title of his career.

The King sails off the Klai Kangwol Palace, ca. 1987.

In the presence of his father and coach, Chanachai who also received praise from the King for bringing his son into top rankings, the King said: “Keep on doing your best and striving for discipline. His Majesty knew every tournament in which Paradorn had played and even recalled the names of competitors whom Paradorn had defeated.

“The King was especially pleased with the way Paradorn greeted the crowds with a wai at the end of every tournament,” Chanachai noted with justifiable pride.

The Phuket King’s Cup Regatta, inaugurated in 1987 to honour the King on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, has been held every year since then, with this year’s regatta, celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, starting on Monday, the second of December.

The now-famous “Phuket Regatta Week” will extend until Saturday the seventh, with the King’s birthday on Thursday, the fifth, comprising a yacht race sponsored by the Mom Tri’s Boathouse and Landrover, Thailand. There will be a candle-lit ceremony on Kata Beach in front of the Boathouse, timed to co-ordinate with Kingdom-wide celebrations for the beloved Monarch.

Prince Bhisadej Rajanee introduces Peter Cummins to HM the King, at Klai Kangwol Palace, 1986.

The King has consistently encouraged ALL sportsmen and women EVERYWHERE, to “put the sporting spirit first, strive for victory - and friendship” and his own example has always been a great source of inspiration to athletes: every sailor knows that His Majesty is a Gold Medal helmsman, winning the OK Dinghy Class in the Fourth South East Asian Peninsular Games 35 years ago on the 16th of December 1967 - this day now celebrated as “National Sports Day” in the Kingdom.

This nautical record, unlikely to be equalled in the annals of sporting history, is matched by a land-based one, when in Bangkok in 1998 the King became the only person to have lit the torch opening the Asian Games on four occasions.

His Majesty is also well known as being highly-knowledgeable about many sports having, at various times, participated himself in skiing, motor racing, ice-skating, badminton, tennis, swimming and even a little golf.

As the then-president of the Thailand Olympic Committee, the late Air Chief Marshal Dawee Chullasapya emphasized when presenting the King with the highly-prestigious honour of “The Insignia of the Olympic Order” at the Rajanives Hall, Chitralada Palace in December 1987, “The King is not just a world-class yachtsman, but he has also participated in - and encouraged - many other sports.

“The Olympic award was made not only to recognize the King’s prowess as a dinghy sailor,” said ACM Dawee, “but also to acknowledge the leading role he has played in promoting all sports - in Thailand, in the region and internationally - always displaying a firm grasp on the history and the finer points of a multitude of sports.”

The dinghy yard at Klai Kangwol Palace: still the scene of active racing.

Even in boxing, the King has proved to be a great example. Just last year, president of the World Boxing Council, Dr Jose Sulaiman, in bestowing upon His Majesty the WBC’s “Golden Shining Symbol of World Leadership Award” was “amazed at the King’s knowledge of boxing”. Whereupon, the King urged Dr Sulaiman “to promote boxing not only as a sport to win titles, but also as an art of self-defence.”

Epilogue

As one would expect from a Monarch defined as “Mahasammata”, or a “King of Righteousness”, by all the people and who, upon his accession to the Throne in 1950, embraced the “Tenfold Moral principles of the Sovereign”, His Majesty has ruled quietly and without ostentation.

Starting very early in his reign and continuing to this day, the King, usually accompanied by the Queen and second daughter Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, travelled to the far corners of the kingdom to learn first-hand from the farmers and peoples of the rural areas about their problems.

Again, as with all his other interests, the Monarch studies, observes, photographs and imbues himself with all the relevant knowledge and facts which he needs to move forward with recommendations, implementation of beneficial projects and follow-up.

The Thai Monarch is probably best known, universally, for his unbending resolve to improve the lives of each and every one of his people – a singular dedication to their welfare which has been acclaimed from all corners of the world.

A lasting image of the King is that of a man, often kneeling or sitting on the ground, poring over charts and topographical maps of the area, while surrounded by local farmers and villagers discussing their problems.

It has been recorded that the King has spent more than 200 days per year, for more than three decades, in rural areas where he has initiated some 2,000 projects aimed solely at improving the well-being of his people.

Thus, through the illustrious decades of his rule, the King has been the very embodiment of his “Oath of Accession” that “We will reign with Righteousness for the Benefit and Happiness of the Siamese People.”

The world’s longest-reigning Monarch, this week celebrating his seventy-fifth birthday, continues to be, as he has been for the half-century of his just reign, “The light of his land, the pride of his people and a shining example to all peoples of a troubled world.”